Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

More great books to add to your list!

1. The Interactive Lecture: How to Engage Students, Build Memory, and Deepen Comprehension
By Harvey F. Silver and Matthew J. Perini

2. Better Learning Through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility, 2nd edition
By Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey

3. The Purposeful Classroom: How to Structure Lessons with Learning Goals in Mind
By Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey

4. How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom
By Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Ian Pumpian

5. The Formative Assessment Action Plan: Practical Steps to More Successful Teaching and Learning
By Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher

6. Causes and Cures in the Classroom: Getting to the Root of Academic and Behavior Problems
By Margaret Searle

7. Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life
By Thomas Armstrong

8. Teaching in Tandem: Effective Coteaching in the Inclusive Classroom
By Gloria Lodato Wilson and Joan Blednick

9. Succeeding with Inquiry in Science and Math Classrooms
By Jeff Marshall

10. Learning to Love Math: Teaching Strategies That Change Student Attitudes and Get Results
By Judy Willis

11. Common Core Standards for High School Mathematics: A Quick-Start Guide
By Amitra Schwols and Kathleen Dempsey; edited by John Kendall

Monday, January 27, 2014

Yes, boys CAN write!

All we need to do is to embrace their interests and how they learn to motivate them to write. Read on!

January 2014 | Volume 56 | Number 1
Boys Can Write! Pages 1-6-7

Boys Can Write!

By John Micklos
When teachers embrace boys' interests and unique learning styles, they can change how even the most reluctant writers view the subject.

Pedro's story about a mother who suffered from physical and mental abuse tugged at readers' emotions. Its power probably derived from truth, as Sarah Rafael Garcia believes the story was based on real life.

An accomplished author herself, Garcia founded the Barrio Writers project in 2009 as a way to help teenagers express themselves creatively while also building their writing skills. The project, which operates in Texas and California, consists of free workshops and produces an annual anthology of student work.

As Garcia discovered, writing—especially creative writing—allows boys to share thoughts and feelings they might not otherwise feel comfortable sharing. It can also bring to surface a deep sense of pride. Another Barrio writer sent a copy of the anthology containing his work to Mexico to be buried with his grandfather, who had just passed away.
Boys often fall through the cracks when it comes to writing, yet these two examples illustrate some basic truths:
  1. Boys have stories to tell.
  2. With the proper encouragement and instruction, boys can write effectively.
  3. Boys can learn to view writing as a positive experience.

Gender Gap

Data support the generalization that boys don't write as well as girls. According to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 8th and 12th grade girls outperformed boys in writing by double digits.

William G. Brozo, a literacy professor at George Mason University (Va.), notes that the gender gap is larger in writing than in reading and that it is most pronounced among low-achieving students. "We must focus our attention on the boys who are the neediest," says Brozo.

Gender differences also extend to attitudes about writing. NAEP results showed that more than half of 8th and 12th grade girls listed writing as their favorite activity, while only about a third of boys agreed.

It's not that boys are inherently less able to write than girls, but rather that boys tend to learn differently. For instance, in Boys and Girls Learn Differently (Jossey-Bass, 2011), Michael Gurian points out that girls tend to develop complex language skills earlier than boys, and they also absorb more sensory data. Furthermore, girls generally have longer attention spans and can sit still for longer periods of time. Boys tend to be less focused and more active. Unfortunately, school instruction is typically more attuned to girls' strengths.

Kathleen Palmer Cleveland, author of Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School (ASCD, 2011), says educators sometimes fall into the trap of thinking, "All boys are the same; all boys are struggling; all boys have the same problems." Instead, she considers the issue through the lens of learning styles. As one example, she notes that many boys learn best by not only taking in information, but also having the opportunity to talk about it. Yet teachers may not always have the time to include such discussion.

Models and Mentors

Experts say boys need males to model the importance of writing; however, such role models are rare in schools, especially at the lower levels. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, only 2 percent of preK and kin-dergarten teachers, 18 percent of elementary and middle school teachers, and 42 percent of secondary school teachers were male.

One way to engage boys is to establish reading and writing clubs directed specifically at them. As many as 100 boys willingly gave up recess to read and discuss books in principal Mike Shaffer's weekly book club for boys at Lincoln Elementary School in Fort Wayne, Ind.—especially when he brought his Harley motorcycle to a meeting and let boys who did book talks sit on it. Shaffer also started a "Boys Read" section in the school library and let each boy select what he wanted to read and discuss. "Be prepared to put books in front of them that they want to read, not what you want them to read," Shaffer advises.

The 2nd grade boys who participated in Michael Williams's after-school book club at Mountain View Elementary School near Harrisburg, Pa., continued meeting with their teacher all the way through 5th grade. Although the club didn't include a specific writing component, Williams believes participation helped boost the boys' writing skills by exposing them to good writing in different genres. A wealth of research supports the idea that strong writers read more often and tend to be strong readers.

Capitalizing on Boys' Interests

Boys often are drawn to nonfiction and alternative forms of writing. To engage boys, many teachers use action and adventure stories, comics, graphic novels, humor, and high-interest nonfiction.

"Boys love things that can kill you," says education consultant Diana Cruchley of British Columbia. Think "spiders, not turtles; tornadoes, not clouds; [and] sharks, not whales." But she adds that many high-interest topics are gender-neutral. "Having boy appeal does not mean that something doesn't also appeal to girls," she notes.

When Melvin and other male students in Marisol Castillo's 9th grade language arts class at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., resisted reading The Taming of the Shrew, she decided to change her approach.

Subsequent reading assignments included American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang and stories from Junot Díaz's collection Drown. "Just bringing in the teenage male perspective was huge," Castillo says. Soon, Melvin organized a competition to see who could write the best essays about reading assignments. Some students even began writing for pleasure, turning raps into rhymes.

"The process reminded me how important it is to teach skills rather than content," Castillo says. "The avenue to get them there isn't as important as getting there."

Boosting Confidence, Mastering Mechanics

Boys tend to fear failure, and many find reading and writing challenging. "If they don't feel safe, they aren't going to try," Cleveland says. "It's imperative, especially early, to build in some kind of success so they keep going."

"Just the basic process of writing can shut a boy down," Cleveland adds. The creative part of the brain clashes with the part that worries about the mechanics. One way to address this, she says, is to "chunk the process." First, work with students to get the ideas out, maybe in a group discussion. Then, focus on the nuts and bolts of the writing process.

Sometimes getting started can be the hardest part. When giving writing assignments, Cruchley offers three potential topics, and she includes images to spark students' creative juices. She also takes advantage of boys' fascination with humor by encouraging them to write jokes or bring in a funny picture book and model the same style of writing.

In a forthcoming ASCD book on struggling writers, David Campos describes a protocol that uses writing prompts, student responses, assessments, and 30 specific strategies to help students with the six key traits of writing. But even while helping students develop skills, Campos stresses the importance of engagement. "Make sure topics appeal to boys," he advises. "Survey the kids to see what they like."

Williams encourages struggling readers and writers to work extensively on one piece and then share it with the class. "Sharing in the author's chair is a huge confidence boost for them," he says.

Building Identity as Writers

To help students see themselves as writers, Marcelle Haddix, an English professor at Syracuse University, started the Writing Our Lives project. These free writing workshops and an annual conference help students in grades 6–12 see writing as an integral part of their lives.

Because many students—especially males—do not see the value of writing, Haddix brings adults to the conference whose jobs require different types of writing. She also holds workshops on college application writing. "Students have to see writing as part of their everyday lives," she says. "We try to legitimize the writing students are already doing. This includes blogging, websites, journals, and poetry."

It's also important for students to develop their voice and maintain their cultural identity. "Keep in mind that attaining a sense of identity is a central concern of adolescence," writes Alfred Tatum in his book Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males (Stenhouse, 2005).

"We try to see ways they can bring themselves and a sense of their voice into their writing," Haddix says. "Both boys and girls want the opportunity to tell their stories and write about their lives. With boys, the key is to focus on genres and topics of interest and relevance to them." For instance, in a 2010 summer institute designed for black boys in grades 5–8, she spotlighted graphic novels, comics, sports, and music.

"Technology and visual literacy are very important to boys," Haddix adds. During a digital storytelling workshop she organized last spring, two 8th graders created a mini-documentary focusing on black boys and violence in their community. They wrote the script, shot and edited the film, added the titling and subtitling, and did the voiceovers. "They just blew me away by how they used the technology to tell their story," Haddix says.

That's just one example of what boys can do—with the proper opportunity and encouragement. As Ralph Fletcher says in Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices (Stenhouse, 2006), "We must begin by coming to grips with the qualities boys bring to the table. To the extent that we really understand them, we can become more skilled, more complete writing teachers."
Author's Note: Pedro and Melvin are pseudonyms.

How to Support Male Writers

✔ Help boys respect writing as a "guy thing." "Show them literature written by men who write for their grade level," advises David Campos.
✔ Model writing for students. Take time to write alongside students, and share your writing with them.
✔ Tailor assignments to capture boys' interests. Motivate boys by encouraging them to write humor, comics, and graphic novels.
✔ Find ways to incorporate writing across genres and across the curriculum. With its emphasis on writing opinion pieces, informative/explanatory texts, and narratives, the Common Core State Standards for writing lend themselves to use across subjects.
✔ Give assignments that allow boys to tell their stories and support their cultural identity. Sarah Rafael Garcia uses writing exercises that have students describe their culture and their family and think of aspects that make them proud.
✔ Encourage students to share their writing. Reading from an "author's chair" works well for elementary students. Older students might publish their work on blogs, Facebook, or web pages.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Awesome new PD books to check out!

To add to your early 2014 reading list!

1. Five Levers to Improve Learning: How to Prioritize for Powerful Results in Your School
By Tony Frontier and James Rickabaugh

2. Engaging Minds in the Classroom: The Surprising Power of Joy
By Michael F. Opitz and Michael P. Ford

3. Hanging In: Strategies for Teaching the Students Who Challenge Us Most
By Jeffrey Benson

4. Engaging Minds in English Language Arts Classrooms: The Surpising Power of Joy
By Mary Jo Fresch; edited by Michael F. Opitz and Michael P. Ford

5. Vocab Rehab: How Do I Teach Vocabulary Effectively With Limited Time?
By Marilee Sprenger
6. Digital Learning Strategies: How Do I Assign and Assessment 21st Century Work?
By Michael Fisher

7. Affirmative Classroom Management: How Do I Develop Rules and Consequences in My School?
By Richard L. Curwin

8. Self-Regulated Learning for Academic Success: How Do I Help Students Manage Their Thoughts, Behaviors, and Emotions?
By Carrie Germeroth and Crystal Day-Hess

9. Learning Targets: Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today's Lesson
By Connie M. Moss and Susan M. Brookhart

10. How to Plan Rigorous Instruction
By Robyn R. Jackson

An amazing cloud formation!

How gorgeous!

This amazing cloud formation puzzled me on a Christmas afternoon in Seattle

Friday, January 10, 2014

Interesting reading....

Interesting reading...continue to click and drill down to the other article and current study by Grissom and Loeb.


Washington Post

By Valerie Strauss

What does it mean for an administrator to be an instructional leader? As often as this phrase is repeated, you’d think there would be well-researched techniques with proven effectiveness. There is no shortage of authors offering protips: Amazon has over a thousand titles that include the phrase. But there is less research on the topic than you’d think, and much of it (e.g., May, Huff, & Goldring, 2012) actually shows a weak or non-existent relationship between student achievement and the priority administrators place on instructional leadership (as opposed to other aspects of a principal’s job, e.g., close attention to administrative matters, inspirational leadership, focus on school culture, etc.). A terrific new study by Jason Grissom, Susanna Loeb, and Ben Master shed light on the role of instructional leadership. It’s the method that sets this study apart. Instead of simply asking principals “how important is instructional leadership to you?” or having them complete time diaries, researchers actually followed 100 principals  around for a full school day, recording what they did.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lessons Learned from a Chinese Tongue Twister

This was recently posted to a forum I subscribe to that I think you will enjoy!
Hello T-440 friends,
I don’t chime in on this list-serve too often, but I think often about my time in T-440 and the lessons learned. I recently published an article inCollege Teaching that in part reflects on how one lesson from T-440 has recently helped me in my teaching.
It’s behind a paywall, but I think this link
will get you to it for free. It’s only two pages, so even the article preview has most of it.
Thank you Professor Duckworth for your help and inspiration!
Best wishes,
John Hilton III
Assistant Professor of Ancient Scripture

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A breath of fresh air!

There was an  article featuring our superintendent, Josh Starr, in the Huffington Post yesterday. It made some very interesting and salient points. Enjoy!

Let's Teach Students to Think Critically, Not Test Mindlessly
Posted: 01/07/2014 5:06 pm
In calling for a three-year moratorium on standardized testing, Starr has said we need to "stop the insanity" of evaluating teachers based on student test scores, as recently reported in the Washington Post. He calls it "bad science" to rely on testing to measure teacher quality.

Starr is not the first educational leader to observe that teaching students to take a test is not the same as teaching them to think critically. But he is the most vocal leader of a large school district to question the testing mandates of the Obama administration.

Others also fear that we are encouraging memorization at the expense of cognitive-processing skills that enable people to assess options, synthesize sets of information into a new form, and evaluate the consequences of their decisions, among other tasks.

A recent conversation with a Columbia University professor who works with international students brought this to mind for me. The professor recalled a Chinese student saying that while fellow students from China excel on tests, including international assessments in reading, writing and mathematics, American students are more adept at thinking critically and creatively. In other words, memorization is the easy part; applying academic thought to real-world problems is the greater challenge.

The classroom is the best laboratory we have to develop practical skills for life. When guided by an effective teacher, sustained efforts to increase reading comprehension, writing and expression, and enhance interdisciplinary and collaborative exploratory projects, remain the sine qua non of education improvement.

Yet most districts spend an inordinate amount of time preparing students to take the high-stakes tests used to assess progress and move students through the academic pipeline toward graduation. Practice tests are given, test-preparation materials developed by the publishers of these same tests are purchased, and students are flooded with isolated facts that often are forgotten once they put the pencil down, never to be revisited as curriculum and instructional focus shifts to the next round of tests.

Children in all districts -- urban, rural and suburban -- are subject to our test-driven culture. Its effect on urban students, however, is of greatest concern to me. While these tests are designed to help close the "knowledge gap" among low-income students and those from wealthier families, I'd argue that the reverse is happening. Our testing culture may, in fact, limit the knowledge urban students and those challenged by poverty need to build throughout their academic careers -- from preschool to post-high school.

Here's why: Children challenged by poverty lack the enrichment opportunities -- travel, visits to cultural institutions, tutoring support and music, art and instrumental training -- that tend to be more available to children from wealthier families. As a result, low-income children become what we at the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education call "school-dependent," relying on schools to fill in these "prior knowledge" gaps. More time spent on test preparation, however, means less time to take cultural field trips, engage in art and music and other cognitive activities that might narrow this gap.
Family circumstances can intensify the imbalance. Many poor children live in single-parent households, where that parent -- typically, the mother -- must hold two or more low-wage jobs to make ends meet, leaving for work at the crack of dawn and returning late at night, with precious time to engage with a young son or daughter. Children from wealthier families are more likely to have parents with the educational and financial resources to guide their early learning and expose them to more enrichment activities outside of school.

In his highly acclaimed "Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count," author Richard E. Nisbett powerfully suggests that: "Within each race, prior knowledge predicted learning and reasoning, but between the races it was only prior knowledge that differed, not learning or reasoning ability." The lack of enrichment experiences, rather than a lack of intelligence, is what causes students of color to fall behind academically.

In their book, "The Myths of Standardized Tests: What They Don't Tell You What You Think They Do," authors Phillip Harris, Bruce M. Smith and Joan Harris ask: "Why testing, and why now? The short answer to both questions is that today, accountability rules ... No Child Left Behind brought to a head 20 years of a misguided approach to accountability that has grown progressively more misguided.

"The model of accountability that our policy makers generally espouse takes an 'industrial' approach to schooling. It defines the value of all our education efforts strictly in terms of test scores and so makes increasing those scores the primary goal of our schools. It's as if our leaders believe that you can gather up a bushel of high test scores -- fresh from the academic assembly line -- and take them to market and cash them in for future prosperity."

It makes me think about that student from China, who can ace any test but envies American students for their ability to solve problems and be creative. We need to hold on to that competitive advantage.
For the benefit of the nation, we must limit the use of testing and employ it strategically as a tool that can help students view learning with curiosity and frame their responsibilities as citizens of a great country.

Eric J. Cooper is the founder and president of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, a nonprofit professional development organization that provides student-focused professional development, advocacy and organizational guidance to accelerate student achievement. He can be reached at